The Quixotic Search for a Shortstop – Part 2

D'Arnaud -- the best in-house replacement for Cedeno?

The first part of the series took a look at what may be available in the minors.  The second and final part of this series will look at the state of shortstops around the major leagues.   To set the stage a little bit, first think about what your standards are for a major league shortstop.  Good, steady defense at a minimum?  What about hitting?  Would you take a .270 batting average, .340 on-base percentage, and a .410 slugging percentage?  That’s a 750 OPS.  Here’s the entire list of shortstops that qualified with enough at-bats that had a 750 OPS in 2010:

  • Troy Tulowitzki, COL (949 OPS)
  • Hanley Ramirez, FLA (853 OPS)
  • Stephen Drew, ARI (810 OPS)
  • Starlin Castro, CHC (755 OPS)

That’s it.  If you lower the threshold to a 720 OPS, you pull in 5 more guys (Juan Uribe, Jose Reyes, Alexei Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, and Marco Scutaro).

The mid-90’s ruined everyone’s perception of what a shortstop can provide at the plate.  When Rodriguez, Garciaparra, Tejada, Jeter, and Furcal were in their primes, everyone’s expectations changed.  Now all of a sudden you had to be a threat at the plate and a Gold Glove candidate, plus steal a bunch of bases.  But now we’re back to an 80’s state of mind where the shortstop is a will-of-the-wisp who you typically bat low in the order.  It’s come full circle.

If the Pirates felt that Chase d’Arnaud was not the heir apparent and further felt compelled to trade for a young veteran or mid-career veteran to fill the shortstop void, who is out there potentially?

With respect to the younger guys, there’s Ian Desmond from the Nationals.  He had a solid rookie season last year with a .269/.308/.392 (700 OPS) with 10 HR’s and 17 SB’s.  There’s also his double play partner with the Nationals, Danny Espinosa, who saw extensive time at SS in the minors.  He’s probably not suited everyday in the majors to be a shortstop, but his offensive potential would make him a tremendous asset.  He had a cup of coffee in the majors last year with Washington, but during his minor league season he had an 801 OPS with 22 HR’s and 25 SB’s.  Jed Lowrie from the Red Sox is the go-to guy whenever some suggests trading for a shortstop who may be blocked, but he is the Red Sox’s super-utility guy in 2011 with an eye on competing with Iglesias for the shortstop job when Marco Scutaro’s contract expires this year.  Reid Brignac of the Rays has been another source of constant trade speculation over the years, with the persistent rumor that Jason Bay was offered to the Rays for Jeff Neimann and Brignac in 2008, but between his low 692 OPS last year and the fact that he is still a min-wage player, he is just not quite good enough to trade for and just cheap enough for the Rays to keep and hope he develops further.  The last intriguing young guy is Alcides Escobar of the Royals.  He was part of the package that went over from Milwaukee to Kansas City for Zack Grienke.  He’s off to an abysmal start this year after a so-so year at the plate in 2010.  His offensive game may not catch up to his defensive acumen.

As for mid-career veterans, the only two decent alternatives with the bat and the glove would be Jose Reyes and Stephen Drew.  Reyes is 28 and making $11M in the last year of his contract.  Normally, I would say the Mets would easily be in the running to re-sign him, but the Bernie Madoff scandal with the Wilpons could have them shedding serious salary both this year and in the future, meaning he may not be offered a new contract.  The downside is that he is a free agent after this year and will probably be looking for $15M per season.  It is highly, highly unlikely that the Pirates would be willing to invest that in Reyes, especially with his performance slipping in recent years.

The second veteran would be Stephen Drew.  Drew is also 28, but is signed through 2012 with a mutual option in 2013.  His salary in 2011 is $4.65M, $7.75M in 2012, and $10M in the 2013 option year.  Those numbers, while large by Pirate standards, are palatable for his production level.  Drew’s career numbers of .273/.334/.449 (783 OPS) are fairly in line with what I laid out as the ideal perceived production from a shortstop at the beginning of this article.  Arizona does not expect to contend this year and with Kevin Towers on the job now they may be looking to rebuild.  Arizona always has the threat of massive debt looming over their franchise and may look to shed some salary if the opportunity presents itself.

As for three other shortstops in the form of Troy Tulowitzki, Starlin Castro, and Elvis Andrus you can just forget entertaining any thoughts of getting those guys.  Tulowitzki was extended this past off-season to a massive contract and is the new Face of the Franchise for the Rockies.  Castro is a young up-and-comer who could be the Face of the Franchise once some of the bloated veteran contracts start to disappear.  And Andrus is the modern day Ozzie Smith – may not be much with the stick, but a wizard in the field.

After looking at what’s available in the minors and the majors, it seems to me that as long as Chase d’Arnaud doesn’t boot the ball all over the field at SS, he is just as good an option as what may be out there.

Author: Kevin Creagh

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